1. Why Meteora?
If you’re in the midst of planning a trip to Greece and on the fence about fitting in Meteora, I have one piece of advice: just go! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a truly unique place in Greece where you can visit living monasteries, see gorgeous Byzantine-era artifacts, and experience the incredible landscape (and even more incredible monasteries clinging precariously to that landscape), as well as the wonderful peace and calm of this holy place. The town of Kalambaka where we stayed is really laid-back and picturesque, and our two days here were our favorite while we were in Greece. Since it’s a little further than day-trip distance from Athens and a more agricultural area, it also felt more like a real place to us than a tourist destination, at least compared to the other places we visited! Meteora is only about a four hour drive from Athens, and the hotels and restaurants there aren’t expensive. So, what are you waiting for? Meteora awaits!
2. Visiting the Monasteries
Over time, there have been nearly two dozen monasteries in the mountains at Meteora, but only six are still living monasteries today–two of which are actually nunneries. Visiting any of them costs only €3, and inside each you are likely to see a chapel, a museum or at least some religious icons, and some really gorgeous views. Each monastery is closed for at least one day of the week, so it pays to know the opening hours. They were as follows during our visit, but you can check here for any changes:
Summer hours (April-October)
St. Stephen’s – 9am-1:30pm, 2:30-5:30pm – closed Mondays
Great Meteoron – 9am-3pm – closed Tuesdays
Roussanou – 9am-3pm – closed Wednesdays
Holy Trinity – 9am-3pm – closed Thursdays
Varlaam – 9am-2pm – closed Fridays
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas – 9am-2:30pm – closed Fridays
Winter hours (November-March)
St. Stephen’s – 9am-1:00pm, 3-5pm – closed Mondays
Great Meteoron – 9am-3pm – closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays
Roussanou – 9am-2pm – closed Wednesdays
Holy Trinity – 10am-4pm – closed Thursdays
Varlaam – 9am-3pm – closed Thursdays & Fridays
St. Nikolaos Anapafsas – 9am-2pm – closed Fridays
If you’re traveling to Meteora from Athens, there are a few public transportation options–train or bus. See this post from Diaries of a Wandering Lobster for details. You could also take an organized tour bus from Athens–there are several options of different lengths available. However, I think the better way to get to Meteora is to simply rent a car. This gives you more freedom to explore the monasteries and areas more off-the-beaten-path at your own pace. Our car was very cheap–around $25 a day–and it was great to be able to travel between monasteries or between Meteora and Kalambaka whenever we liked. The drive from Athens to Meteora was a pretty easy one, too. It took about four hours, and there was only one place where we got a little lost because of some construction in Lamia. The winding roads around Meteora make for extremely fun driving, too!
There are two towns near Meteora–Kastraki and Kalambaka. Kalambaka is a bit bigger and so has more options for lodging, restaurants, etc. We stayed there and loved it! It’s such a cute little town, and people are really friendly. I’ve heard that if you are interested in rock-climbing, Kastraki is the better place to stay since it’s closer to that scene. Along both roads that go up into the mountains of Meteora were plenty of camping options as well.
5. What to Wear
The monasteries do have a dress code, and it’s important that you respect it. People of both genders must have (at least) shoulders covered, and men must wear long pants (no shorts!). Women need to wear skirts below the knee. If you really forgot to pack anything like that, the monasteries do have these tie-on apron/skirt things that you can borrow. However, to be respectful (and have the best chance of looking good in pictures), remember to pack your own!
Another important part of showing respect at the monasteries is to pay attention to where photography is or isn’t allowed at the monasteries. In some, like Roussanou, photography is not allowed inside at all. In most of the monasteries, however, you can take pictures pretty much everywhere except in the chapel or the museum, and this will be indicated by a no-photography sign above the door. Your most breathtaking pictures of Meteora probably will be from overlooks along the road or stairs ascending to monasteries anyway, so don’t get too worried about taking photos inside the monasteries themselves.
7. Recommended Monasteries
My original goal was to visit all six monasteries during our two/two and a half days in Meteora, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Holy Trinity was closed for renovations until December 4th, and we were too tired to do all the stairs up to St. Nikolaos Anapafsas by the time we got done at the others. We also only had a few minutes at Great Meteoron, as it was closed the second two days of our visit. Of what we saw, however, I would say that St. Stephen’s should top anyone’s list–it’s large, has the best hours, the largest chapel, a nice museum, and the nuns there are really nice. The best part is, there aren’t any stairs to that one–just a bridge–so you can visit even if you have limited mobility! Varlaam Monastery was very interesting, and I would probably put that one next on the list, as there’s quite a bit to see and a medium amount of stairs. Great Meteoron would probably go next on the list, if it’s open. It’s the largest, so there is plenty to see there, and it’s the most popular one to visit–it does have more stairs than Varlaam though. If you want to challenge yourself, I would pick either St. Nikolaos Anapafsas or Holy Trinity–we saw neither but both had quite a few stairs to get up to them. Holy Trinity seemed to be the larger of the two. Roussanou Nunnery was our least favorite, as there are a lot of stairs to the top and not much to see once you get there. The views on the way up are gorgeous though.
I wouldn’t stress out too much (as I did before we went) about trying to see all the monasteries. Once we’d seen three (and a half, kind of) they started to seem very similar, and part of the joy of Meteora is enjoying breathtaking views and slowing down to the pace of life there. Since all of the monasteries are closed at least one day a week, it would be quite difficult to see them all anyway, without at least two to three full days in Meteora. However, to summarize what I said above, I would pick three from these categories to try to visit:
- St. Stephen’s Nunnery (a large, easy-to-access nunnery)
- Varlaam or Great Meteoron Monastery (a large monastery with plenty to see)
- Holy Trinity, St. Nikolaos Anapafsas, or Roussanou (a small monastery/nunnery with lots of stairs)
8. Other things to do in Kalambaka
If you enjoy rock-climbing, hiking, or photography, you’ll find no shortage of other things to do in the area (besides visiting monasteries). There are some other attractions in Kalambaka, too, however, like the Meteora Natural History & Mushroom Museum, which displays over 300 bird species and over 250 mushroom species! Vindros Icons is a great place to pick up a religious icon or some other memento from Meteora as a souvenir. Central Square in Kalambaka has a really cute fountain and great cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and shopping nearby.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick guide on visiting my favorite place in Greece, Meteora! Have you visited the monasteries there? Did I miss any insider tips? Let me know in the comments below!